An El Al passenger plane set to take off for New York City returned to the gate at Ben-Gurion Airport to pick up an 11-year-old cancer patient, whose missing passport was found after she was forced off the flight.
The girl, Inbar Chomsky of Rehovot, was one of 30 Israeli children with cancer on her way to Camp Simcha in the US last week.
Camp Simcha, located in Glen Spey, New York, is an overnight summer camp run by Chai Lifeline for youngsters aged six to 20 with cancer or chronic hematologic conditions.
When Chai Lifeline staff began collecting the children’s passports after boarding the flight, Chomsky’s passport was missing, according to Rabbi Yaakov Pinsky, director of programs and services at Chaiyanu, Chai Lifeline’s Israel branch.
“All 30 girls were accounted for except that one passport, so of course, all havoc broke out,” Pinsky told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Chai Lifeline staff and El Al flight attendants began frantically looking for the passport, and the El Al ground crew even traced the campers’ steps from the boarding gate area all the way to the plane, Pinsky said.
The passport was still nowhere to be found, and Chomsky had to be taken off the aircraft.
“The flight attendants started getting very emotional.
How could they send [back] this 11-year-old girl who’s finally having a chance to go to a camp that is built for cancer children?” Pinsky said, noting that the campers had to go through months of medical testing to ensure they would be healthy enough to travel.
With the plane on the runway and disappointment having already set in, a girl who had been sitting next to Chomsky opened her knapsack and found Chomsky’s passport.
The flight attendants allowed camp staff to speak with the pilots in the cockpit, and after about 15 to 20 minutes of discussion between El Al and airport officials, a decision was made to go back to the gate for Chomsky.
“It’s just unbelievable to think that something like that actually happened,” Pinsky said. “It’s just not something you do. You don’t go back for a passenger, it’s never heard of.”
El Al, too, acknowledged the rarity of its decision, in a statement sent to the Post.
“Planes rarely return to the gate after departing,” the airline said. “El Al was honored and proud to help Inbar’s dream to go to the camp in the USA come true. We wish Inbar full recovery and health.”
Pinsky said El Al’s move greatly lifted the 11-year-old’s spirits.
“She went from crying to absolute ecstasy,” he said.